Shortly after Confederation, Canada turned its eyes west, to its vast unsettled frontier.
But the federal government faced a huge problem: how to settle an immense land with a weak treasury.
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Pioneers Head West
The Canadian government had watched the carnage unfold in the American West, when settlers brazenly flocked into the untamed land, provoking bloody and expensive Indian wars. In 1876 alone, the American government spent $20 million dollars fighting the Indians. That amount represented more than the total Canadian budget.
Frontier law and order
Canada's answer to the western dilemma; bring peace and order to the West before the settlers arrive. Three initiatives by the Canadian government laid the groundwork for the organized, controlled settlement of the frontier.
In 1873, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald created the North West Mounted Police to bring Canadian law and order to the North West Territories (present day Saskatchewan and Alberta).
The Mounties also developed good relations with the natives and encouraged them to negotiate with the Canadian government. During the 1870s, the natives signed a series of treaties, which transferred land to the Canadian government and transferred Plains Indians onto reserves.
Finally the federal government sent land surveyors to the West to divide up the territory into orderly plots, ready for settlers.
By 1880, the frontier had peace and order and was ready for white settlement. When John A. Macdonald announced the railroad would run through the territory, a trickle of settlers became a flood.
Pioneers head west
The Canadian government offered cheap land and big promises for people seeking a better life. For many the journey west was the first hint that life would be more difficult than they ever believed.
Most new settlers entered the prairies through the boomtown of Winnipeg, then they continued west along muddy, rutted cart tracks enduring extreme heat and swarms of mosquitoes.
Life didnít get any easier when settlers arrived on their land. Summers offered plagues of grasshoppers, prairie fires and sudden frosts that killed the crops. Winters meant loneliness and isolation.
But many pioneers endured the hardships and the Canadian frontier began to take shape.